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The covert British Army “ambush observation post” near to McGurks Bar. By David Burke.

For decades, the British State has denied that undercover soldiers were present in the vicinity of McGurk’s Bar before it was bombed by the UVF in December 1971. They were lying. Documents have emerged which show that a covert British Army “ambush observation post” was present nearby

The Information Commissioner’s Office has just upheld a complaint about the infamous bombing of McGurk’s bar in Belfast. The complaint was made against Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI). It concerned the discovery of the covert British Army “ambush observation post” in the vicinity of McGurk’s Bar on the night of the Massacre.

The overwhelming odds are that the post was manned by a unit of the notorious MRF on the night. The MRF was a covert unit set up to confront the IRA by Brigadier (later General, Sir) Frank Kitson. It engaged in surveillance and assassination.

The British state has been – and continues to be – severely embarrassed by the actions of the MRF. It has denied for decades that it had an assassination role. Whenever the MRF has been attacked in the press, the defence raised by the British state is that it was little more than an organisation that engaged in the surveillance of suspected terrorists.

When an organisation lies for decades, one can – I hope –  be forgiven for becoming cynical and suspicious.

I am deeply suspicious about the lies the British State has been spewing about the observation post which was located near McGurks bar and another licensed premises allegedly frequented by members of the Official IRA.

My concerns are heightened by the fact the British state has been lying about every facet of the McGurk atrocity for decades. A detailed  account of some of this deception can be found by clicking this link The McGurk’s Bar cover-up. Heath’s Faustian pact. How a British prime minister covered up a UVF massacre in the hope of acquiring Unionist votes to enable the UK join the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the EU.

In summary, a UVF gang planned to attack a pub which they believed was frequented by Official IRA volunteers. The plan was thwarted by the presence of guards who were posted outside the pub. The bombers opted instead to attack McGurk’s bar which was nearby. Eleven people were killed.

Kitson and the RUC went into cover-up mode immediately. For reasons which appear perplexing – at least on the surface – they pretended that the bomb was one made by the IRA which had exploded prematurely inside the building; moreover, that the bomb was in transit, the intention to attack another venue entirely.

Frank Kitson

The cover-up was expansive. It employed numerous individuals on both sides of the Irish Sea. Propagandists (probably Hugh Mooney of the infamous IRD) prepared scripts containing questions and answers for a recital of lies to be performed in the House of Commons.

It is impossible to think of a more blatant attempt to mislead Parliament than this. Boris Johnson’s deceit pales in comparison.

The organisation, Paper Trail, has shown that not only was this deception executed, but that additional scripts were prepared. The extra lines were not spoken as the public had swallowed the deception that the attack was an IRA ‘own goal’.

The Tory Party and Official Unionist party, then led by Brian Faulkner, had a motive for disseminating the fiction about the IRA ‘own goal”: they did not want public pressure brought to bear on the Tory government to intern Loyalist paramilitaries. At the time, the British government was interning Republicans but not Loyalists. (Internment was arrest and detention without trial.)

For decades, the families of the victims have called upon the British government to release all of the files they have about the atrocity. Nothing less than a full judicial inquiry is merited. Britain will not do so voluntarily. If the proposed legacy legislation is defeated, US Congressional pressure should be sought to bring about an inquiry into McGurks.

In the absence of an inquiry, it is inevitable that speculation will fill the void. If the British state feels that this speculation is unfair, it has no one to blame but itself.

One possible scenario which explains all the lies is that the MRF was the mastermind behind the attempt to bomb the pub which they believed was frequented by the Official IRA. They may have prepared the bomb, or at least helped in its preparation. At least one member of the UVF gang could have been working with them. In this scenario, the MRF agent inside the gang was not able to stop his colleagues from attacking McGurks after they became frustrated waiting outside the perceived Official IRA pub. In this scenario, it is easy to understand why figures such as Brigadier Kitson, the RUC and an array of ‘useful idiots’ in the House of Commons, became embroiled in a sordid cover-up and smear campaign that continues to this day.

The possibility that Kitson was behind the bombing, does not undermine or contradict the theory that the cover-up was designed to avoid the internment of Loyalists. Sadly, both theories dovetail perfectly.

There are even more sinister possibilities: the plan might have been to bomb the alleged Official IRA-frequented pub and either {i} portray it as an Official IRA own goal, or {ii} pretend the bomb was placed by the Provisional IRA in order to stimulate a feud between the Officials and the Provisionals. This is not as far-fetched as it seems. I have spoken directly to a Special Military Intelligence Unit officer who was active in Belfast in the 1970s. He told me how he once lifted guns from an Official IRA arms dump planted them with a Provisional IRA cache. Next, British intelligence leaked the whereabouts of the stolen weapons to spark a feud between the two wings of the IRA.

This sort of divide and conquer tactic was straight out of Kitson’s play book.

The Official and Provisional wings did engage in a murderous feud in the 1970s.

If a judicial inquiry into McGurks is ever established, the terms of reference should be wide enough to explore all of the foregoing possibilities by references to the archives of the British Army at HQNI Lisburn, the MoD, MRF, MI5 at the Home Office, MI6 and IRD at the Foreign Office, the Cabinet Office and the Northern Ireland Office and the defunct office of the UK Representative to the Government of Northern Ireland (UKREP).

This is a story that is not going to go away.  The Information Commissioner’s Office has just upheld a family complaint against Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) regarding the discovery of the covert British Army “ambush observation post” in the vicinity of McGurk’s Bar on the night of the Massacre.

Ciarán MacAirt’s grandmother, Kathleen Irvine, was among those murdered. He discovered the existence of the covert British Army “ambush OP” [Observation Post] in secret MoD files. A British soldier had accidentally discharged a gun and the details were reported to Battalion Command hours before the Massacre:

Accidental discharge in the York St ambush OP. 1 x 9mm – no cas[ualty] – [NAME OF SOLDIER REDACTED]

MacAirt raised a number of requests for information as a result of this significant discovery, including one to the PSNI because: (1) a negligent discharge should have been reported to police at the time; (2) police should have been informed of the existence of a covert British Army unit if only to prevent the possibility of friendly fire between the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army.

Neither RUC then, nor PSNI now, have ever admitted the existence of the covert British Army unit in any of their investigations. In fact, PSNI said that “to confirm or deny that the requested information was held take would longer than 18 hours and would therefore exceed the appropriate limit” [section 12 of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)].

Nevertheless, the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled on Wednesday 29th March 2023 that “PSNI was not entitled to refuse the request under section 12” as PSNI did not demonstrate “that confirming or denying that the requested information is held would exceed the appropriate limit”.

The ICO has ruled that PSNI issues “a fresh response to the complainant that does not cite section 12 of FOIA in respect of the duty to confirm or deny that the requested information is held”.

Ciarán MacAirt has said:

This is but a small victory in our battle for truth and justice, although we expect PSNI to come back with another contrived excuse to withhold evidence in the mass murder of our loved ones.

It is contemptible that ordinary family members have to fight for scraps of truth over half a century after the McGurk’s Bar Massacre and its subsequent police cover-up.

Unfortunately, it proves that PSNI is up to its neck in the police cover-up to this very day. The British Army had prepared an offensive operation on the night of the McGurk’s Bar Massacre. Either PSNI did not know about the existence of this covert British Army ‘ambush observation post’ in the vicinity of Belfast’s most devastating mass murder; or it knew about it and tried to bury it. Neither reflects well on a modern-day police force that should care more about defending the basic human rights of citizens today, rather than defending a sectarian police force in the past.

Christopher Stanley, Litigation Consultant, KRW LAW LLP, said:

Information retrieval and truth recovery are central to the process of dealing with the Legacy of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. Exposing the truth, no matter how painful, is fundamental to establishing justice and accountability for the relatives of victims.

If Britain’s Legacy Bill becomes law, Freedom of Information requests such as this will become increasingly important to relatives of victims and campaigners. The PSNI cannot simply rely upon a stock response to such requests – including ‘Neither Confirm, Nor Deny’ – without further explanation or context; nor should PSNI rely upon outright exemptions available to it under the FOIA legislation without proper examination.

The ICO, the statutory authority in charge of regulating Freedom of Information, has, in this instance, ‘flushed out’ the PSNI which spends public money refusing and defending the vast majority of requests for information relating to the activities of the RUC during the Conflict.

See also: A loathsome dirty trick. 4 December was the 50th anniversary of the infamous bombing of McGurk’s Bar. By David Burke.

And: Frank Kitson, Collusion and the McGurk’s Bar Cover-Up. By Ciarán MacAirt.

And: Frank Kitson, Collusion and the McGurk’s Bar Cover-Up. By Ciarán MacAirt.

And: An appalling vista: disturbing indications of Kitson’s foreknowledge of a third massacre of innocent civilians.Tragedy took fifteen lives including two children. By David Burke.

David Burke is the author of ‘Deception & Lies, the Hidden History of the Arms Crisis 1970’  and  ‘Kitson’s Irish War, Mastermind of the Dirty War in Ireland’  which examines the role of counter-insurgency dirty tricks in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. His new book, ‘An Enemy of the Crown, the British Secret Service Campaign against Charles Haughey’, was published on 30 September 2022. These books can be purchased here: